Hot Brain Review

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Publisher: Midway
Developer: Creat Studios

Platform: PSP
Reviewed on PSP

According to the fictional Hot Brain Institute, headed by Dr. Ed Warmer, "Our research shows that exercising your brain on a regular basis can help prevent a decrease in brain function. It can help improve your memory, concentration and communication skills. Working on these types of puzzles can even stimulate your creativity. Having a hot brain could actually raise your intelligence!"

Kyle Ackerman

Hot Brain is one of the several games spawned by the success of Nintendo's Brain Age for the DS. The games are ostensibly based on research showing that solving simple puzzles quickly (as opposed to slowly solving difficult problems, or just watching television) increases blood flow to the brain, thereby increasing mental acuity in a sort of mental workout. It's true that such activities increase blood flow. But real-world medical researchers disagree on whether such activities actually improve mental function. Whatever the research, games like Brain Age sell well, so several games like Hot Brain have popped onto the market.

That's a good thing, because while Hot Brain is less grounded in the parlance of strict medical research, it's more colorful, more entertaining and serves up more interesting puzzles. Perhaps the biggest and most engaging difference is that Hot Brain is hosted by comedian Fred Willard rather than the endearing (but less accessible) Dr. Ryuta Kawashima. Fred Willard (from films such as "A Mighty Wind" and "Best in Show") is the voice of Dr. Ed Warmer, always ready with a quick quip or ridiculous joke as he guides you through the Hot Brain Institute. If the jokes get old, they can be skipped, but Willard transforms Hot Brain from a collection of puzzles into an amusing destination to visit with your PSP.

Does Carnegie Hall Feature Logic?

The bulk of Hot Brain is its "Practice" mode. Practice mode allows would-be brainiacs to try any of the game's individual puzzles, tests or exercises. There are five categories of puzzles (logic, memory, math, language and concentration), each with three individual exercises. The memory puzzles might have you trying to remember pictures or a sequence of sounds, while math puzzles include ordering numbers (and equations) from highest to lowest value or filling in the operators for mathematical equations. Language puzzles have you rhyming words with pictures, and logic puzzles have you identifying the next element of a sequence, or tracking a taxi as it cruises through town.

With each puzzle, you'll need to succeed on lower difficulty levels to earn enough achievements to try the same puzzle on the medium or hard level. This can be irritating, as many of the puzzles are simple enough that repetition at the easy levels is simply a blockade between you and the more interesting, complex levels of the same puzzle. Some puzzles, like the easy level of Memory's "Pinball Wizard" are so easy that response time is a bigger factor than mental acuity. Despite the 15-second limit for each answer, it's easy to do more than 60 puzzles in that time. Ultimately, each test yields a score in the form of a "brain temperature" ranging from 32°F ("Icy!") to 120°F ("On Fire!")

Put an Ice Pack Under Your Hat

If Hot Brain is about anything, it's the "Test Mode." Test Mode puts you through one puzzle from each category, at various difficulty levels, to determine overall brain temperature. While it's fun to whip out five tests, Hot Brain isn't nearly as challenging as Brain Age. If you enjoy logic puzzles or pattern recognition, it's not hard to score the maximum 120°F the first time you pick up the game.

If there are issues with Hot Brain, they are mostly limitations of the PSP rather than serious problems with the game. For example, selecting answers with a stylus is easy and intuitive. But Hot Brain poses all questions as multiple choice tests that you answer by hitting one of the four PSP buttons. If you're a fan of Simon-Says–style rhythm games, this is simplicity itself. But if you're a casual gamer not intimately familiar with the PSP, the extra time to identify the correct button will seriously betray your superior mental skills. Load time is also an issue. For a title that relies so heavily on mini-games, there are a lot of loading screens. While you can skip Dr. Ed Warmer's monologues, there's nothing you can do about that loading bar. Also, for a game that's meant to be picked up and played in brief bursts, it takes a long time to start up – such games demand a different approach to splash screens and initial loads.

Competition Isn't the Crux of Achievement

If you have a few friends with PSPs, there are competitive and cooperative modes that transform the same tests from the Practice and Test Modes into group activities. "Think Tank" allows up to four players to work together to set a brain "on fire." The brain slowly cools off, but faster answers warm it up (and wrong answers cool it down). In that way, the fastest (correct) answer brings the group closer to winning. "Brain Race" mode, on the other hand, has the participants racing to warm their brain up to "on fire" before every other player. It's nice to have the option to battle it out for cerebral sovereignty, but racing against other players isn't any more fun than racing against yourself unless you feel that to win, someone else has to lose.

While the single-player action in Hot Brain makes it more exciting than Brain Age and its clones, the multiplayer action isn't as exciting or involved as the action in Big Brain Academy. Ultimately, Fred Willard and the colorful puzzles are what distinguish Hot Brain from the competition. Of course, most of Hot Brain's competition is on the DS, so if you only own a PSP but still want to play this genre, Hot Brain is your choice.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on July 6, 2007 7:49 PM.

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